U.S. President Donald Trump is urging the U.N. Security Council to take "strong and swift action" to bring Myanmar's Rohingya crisis to an end, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday, calling the violence there a threat to the region and beyond.
Pence, speaking at a Security Council meeting on peacekeeping reform, accused the Myanmar military of responding to militant attacks on government outposts "with terrible savagery, burning villages, driving the Rohingya from their homes."
Pence repeated a U.S. call for the Myanmar military to end the violence immediately and support diplomatic efforts for a long-term solution.
"President Trump and I also call on the Security Council of the United Nations to take strong and swift action to bring this crisis to an end and bring hope and help to the Rohingya people in their hour of need," Pence said.
His remarks were the strongest yet from the U.S. government in response to the violence in Myanmar's western state of Rakhine that began last month and has forced 422,000 Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh, fleeing a military offensive the United Nations has branded ethnic cleansing.
Pence called the violence and the "historic exodus" of Rohingya, including tens of thousand of children, a "great tragedy."
The violence began on Aug. 25 when Rohingya insurgents attacked about 30 police posts and an army camp, killing about 12 people.
Unless the violence was stopped, it would only become worse and "consume the region for generations to come and threaten the peace of us all," the vice president said.
"The images of the violence and its victims have shocked the American people and decent people all over the world," he said.
Pence said the United States welcomed comments by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a national address that returning refugees have nothing to fear, but Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh said on Wednesday they took little hope from the 1991 Nobel peace laureate's speech.
"I have no hope to go back. My documents were stripped from my forefathers decades ago," said Shafi Rahman, 45. He said he had arrived in Bangladesh two weeks ago after soldiers and civilian mobs burned his village.
Rights monitors and fleeing Rohingya say the army and Rakhine Buddhist vigilantes responded with violence and arson aimed at driving out the mostly stateless Muslim population, which the U.N. rights agency called "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing."
Myanmar rejects the charge, saying its forces are tackling insurgents of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army who it has accused of setting the fires and attacking civilians.
Smoke could be seen rising from at least two places in Myanmar on Wednesday, a Reuters reporter in Bangladesh said. It was not known what was burning but rights groups say almost half of Rohingya villages in the region have been torched.
In her Tuesday speech, Suu Kyi condemned abuses and said all violators would be punished, adding that she was committed to the restoration of peace and the rule of law.
However, she did not address U.N. accusations of ethnic cleansing by the security forces, drawing a cool international response.
On the return of refugees, she said Myanmar was ready to start a verification process under a 1993 arrangement with Bangladesh and "those who have been verified as refugees from this country will be accepted without any problem."
But refugees in Bangladesh who were aware of her comments took no comfort from that, anticipating little change to policies that have denied their community recognition as a distinct ethnic group and citizenship.
Most people in Buddhist-majority Myanmar see the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and refuse to even recognise the term Rohingya.
"She didn't mention Rohingya. Rohingya is our ethnicity," said Nizam Uddin, 19, who arrived in Bangladesh in November, following violence the previous month triggered by insurgent attacks on police.
"Most of our documents were burned by the military ... We don't have proof of citizenship and how can we get it?
"I have no hope."
Suu Kyi has for years been feted in the West as a champion of democracy during years of military rule and house arrest but she has faced growing criticism over the plight of the Rohingya.
Western diplomats and aid officials had been hoping to see unequivocal condemnation of violence and hate speech in her address.
In a telephone call with Suu Kyi, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson welcomed Myanmar's commitment to allow the return of refugees, but urged it to facilitate aid to those affected by the violence and address "deeply troubling" rights abuse allegations, the State Department said.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Patrick Murphy is in Myanmar and is due to meet government officials and representatives of different communities in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state.
The United States said on Wednesday it would provide an additional $32 million in humanitarian assistance, bringing its total assistance in 2017 to $95 million.
"We applaud the government of Bangladesh's generosity in responding to this severe humanitarian crisis and appreciate their continued efforts to ensure assistance reaches people in need," the U.S. State Department said in a statement.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said she talked to Trump on Monday about Rohingya Muslims flooding into her country, but expected no help from him as he has made clear how he feels about refugees.
China, which has close economic and diplomatic ties with Myanmar and is a competitor to the United States for influence in the strategically important country, has called for understanding of the government's efforts to protect stability.
On Tuesday, Britain said it had suspended a military training programme in Myanmar and French President Emmanuel Macron condemned "unacceptable ethnic cleaning" and said he would launch a U.N. Security Council initiative to ensure humanitarian access and an end to the violence.
Suu Kyi rejected a suggestion she was soft on the military, telling Radio Free Asia her objective was national reconciliation.
"We have never criticised the military itself, but only their actions. We may disagree on these types of actions," she said.
She cited her efforts to change a military-drafted constitution, which bars her from the presidency and gives the military responsibility over security and a veto over charter reform.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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